Cop Hater (MGM LE Collection) Review

A title like Cop Hater invokes toughness and street-level grit. It's just the sort of name for a film where a man is shot in the back as he walks down the sidewalk even before the opening credits have finished rolling. Credit novelist Ed McBain (a.k.a. Evan Hunter) whose book of the same name was the first in his long-running series of police procedurals set in the 87th precinct of a metropolis that greatly resembled New York City. It took Hollywood just two years to put McBain's story on the screen and mere weeks afterward to continue the series with a movie version of the follow-up book, The Mugger. There are no common characters in the two films but they do share a director (William Berke) and screenwriter (Henry Kane), along with both being made by Barbizon Productions (which doesn't seem to have released anything else).

The man gunned down at the beginning of the 1958 picture Cop Hater turns out to have been a police officer, dressed in plainclothes. His colleagues are understandably stirred by the killing but it's the subsequent shooting death of the first victim's partner that really causes a panic at the 87th. Investigative duties turn to partners Steve Carelli (Robert Loggia) and Mike Maguire (Gerald O'Loughlin). They're portrayed as dogged, intense professionals devoted to the job. Loggia, in particular, makes a strong impression in his role. It's initially a little strange seeing him as a younger man but we soon adjust and begin to wonder why he didn't get more film work during this time period. This was his first lead and second part of significance. Aside from being reteamed with the actress Ellen Parker in the same year's The Lost Missile (also, at least partially, directed by Berke, who died during filming) he didn't appear again on the big screen until 1966, when he was way down the cast list in the Chekhov adaptation The Three Sisters.

The procedural aspects of Cop Hater are interesting and really done quite well, with the central mystery always kept in the foreground though never overwhelming the entirety of the film. But just as notable is the treatment of Carelli and Maguire's home lives. There's clear emphasis on showing them outside of their element as cops. We see Maguire with his wife Alice (Shirley Ballard) three times. The first has her sitting on their apartment windowsill as she looks forlornly out into the warm city, dressed in a black two-piece set and a provocative sheer robe. It's clear to everyone except her husband that she's grown tired of him and this way of life. (The included trailer even introduces her as a "loose" woman.) The second time shows her trying on a jungle print bikini for Maguire, whose bare chest makes him look like a burlier Tarzan when he picks her up. The third appearance of the couple serves as a contrast of sorts to Carelli and his very loving girlfriend Teddy (Parker). They've been invited over to the Maguires' apartment prior to going out, and some dancing ensues, with Alice seeming more interested in partnering up with Carelli. The good-natured Maguire makes a comment about the two being a bit too close to one another. Deaf and mute Teddy shows nothing but affection for Carelli at all times, and he makes a point to drop in on her at night even when he has to return to work later in the evening.

There are some strikingly adult themes and glimpses in this film. For one thing, the deaths are handled with more weight than is sometimes seen in the movies of this time period. This could be due to the fraternal nature of police officers and each killing involving one of their own but it's palpable nonetheless. Sex, too, emanates strongly from Cop Hater without it ever seeming salacious or tawdry. Alice's outfits tend to put thoughts in the 1958 male and Teddy is later seen in nothing but a bath towel. Plus there's a trip to a brothel run by a woman named Mama Lucy. Then there's the violence, which isn't quite what you'd call extreme and certainly not on the level of even a television show like The Untouchables but nonetheless still prominent. Essentially, this unnamed city is teeming with seediness. The showing of a gang or "social club" called The Grovers (which could be straight out of The Warriors but probably seemed more frightening prior to the advent of Sesame Street) introduces the idea of violent, corrupted youth but does so without sermonizing. Look for a young Jerry Orbach in the police station as a tall, gangly leader of the group.

A film like Cop Hater can only go as far as its story, performances and atmosphere, and all three are mostly up to the task here. There's little mistaking that this is a B-movie made with limited resources and nearly resembling a television drama as much as a feature film. It's excellent for what it is, though, and there's a great deal to enjoy while watching. The picture ends with an unusual flourish that further reminds us of the continuous cycle involved in police work. There is no time to mourn those lost or bask in the glory of solving the central murders. Instead it's Loggia's character answering the phone and speaking as the end credits roll, starting a new case with new victims.


The Disc

This disc being reviewed is a single-layered DVD-R burned on demand for MGM's "Limited Edition Collection" series. Though a pressed DVD would be preferable, a made-on-demand service is probably best suited to tackling titles like this that might have lower levels of interest from consumers. The MGM version of this program generally has attractive cover art but falls short in its bootleg-resembling back covers and spines. (The misspelling of "Barbizon" in the credits on the back doesn't lend much confidence either.) Cop Hater doesn't even have acceptable cover art since it features two characters who are more on the fringes of the film than the leads. And it's way overpriced.

The 1.33:1 aspect ratio here for a 1958 film seems unusual, as most theaters likely would have been projecting in widescreen at the time, but there are no obvious or major composition troubles. Video quality is not outstanding but still acceptable. Contrast is the main issue, as there's too much of a green tinge to the picture instead of a stronger monochrome. The opening looks especially poor and muddy. Reel change markers, or "cigarette burns," were prominent as well. A vertical scratch or two shows up but shouldn't be of much concern. Some softness is worth mentioning, though I do want to emphasize that this is far from terrible, and it has been progressively transferred. The bordering on apologetic message preceding the film that it's "been manufactured using the best source material available" is actually a standard disclaimer included on all of these MGM LE Collection discs I've seen. In short, very watchable yet imperfect.

The audio is somewhat low in volume. The English mono contains hiss and static but doesn't suffer from any major drops or sudden sounds of damage. Dialogue can be understood without much of a struggle. No subtitles are offered, one of the absolute worst byproducts of the recent made-on-demand phenomenon.

We do at least get a trailer (1:50) for the film, in worse shape than the movie. No other extras and the disc is housed in a standard keepcase thinned out for the environment.


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